Make space. Find peace. Feel joy.

Worth repeating: Chipping away at a project

29 June 2015

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but I really needed it today. I’m once again a bit behind on my Quickbooks data entry. This morning, I entered a recurring daily task in my task-manager app to spend 15 minutes working on the backlog. This post is strengthening my resolve to get caught up a little at a time.

Sometimes projects, big or small, feel too overwhelming to even start. Sometimes tasks are ongoing or recurring and we have a tendency to let them build up before starting to tackle them.

For either of those types of projects, one solution is to do a little. Just do something. Because a little effort on a regular basis will get the job done, eventually.

I’m experiencing that right now when it comes to getting caught up with my Quickbooks bookkeeping for my business. In the past, I’ve let it build up and tackled months’ worth at a time. I’m happy to say that that’s not been the case this year, but I still struggle to stay caught up with it. As of this afternoon, I was about three weeks behind and, despite some dueling priorities, I decided I had to get at least some done. So I’ve been working on it for the last hour or so and by the time I quit for the night, I’ll at least be caught up with August and I’ll have entered all September deposits and checks. That’s my vow to myself. Knowing I don’t have to do it all in one session allowed me to get started.

I received an email over the weekend from a woman who had attended a talk I gave this summer. In that talk, I encouraged people to just spend 15 minutes a day on organizing or decluttering. Much like my bookkeeping, I urged them to just do something even if the job wasn’t finished.

This woman was kind enough to share with me that she took my advice to heart and 15 minutes at a time, tackled 12 years’ worth of accumulated financial papers. These were papers she hadn’t been able to face after her husband died. Now they’re processed and, as necessary, shredded.

This was a task that was completely overwhelming and emotionally difficult for her. 15 minutes at a time (sometimes 30), she got it done.

So there you have it. Whether you’re looking at overwhelming backlog or just keeping on top of a task (like data entry or laundry) so that it doesn’t get overwhelming, you can chip away at it, doing a little bit at a time, can make it much easier.

Have that difficult conversation

23 June 2015

Helping loved ones plan for death

My mother, Betty Sue Brown Adams, passed away on June 17. She’d been living with Parkinson’s Disease for years and the end of her life was swift and peaceful. My father, brothers, and I took great comfort in that.

One other source of comfort was the pre-planning we did back in 2006, when my mother was 73 and relatively healthy. I had just taken a two-day estate organizing workshop from Jeanne Smith of Exit Stage Right. One day was on helping people organize their affairs prior to death. The other day was on helping people organize after the death of a loved one.

That workshop was in California and I headed straight up to Walla Walla, Washington, to visit my parents. I asked them to help me in my training by going through the pre-death organizing process. The conversations were actually pretty easy and, believe it or not, we had a little fun going through the Exit Strategies workbook that Jeanne created and sells.

Nine years later, that planning paid great dividends after my mother passed away. That very night, we pulled out the workbook and pored over the pages in which my mother had specified her desires for the details of her memorial service (down to the flowers and music), burial, and obituary.

Those pages were absolutely invaluable the day after my mother’s passing, when my father and I went to the funeral home. We did not have to speculate what my mother would have wanted. And thanks to the workbook, the obituary practically wrote itself.

The workbook also provides a handy checklist of things to do after a death, as well as people to inform.

My father and I have agreed to go through the workbook again and make sure his desires and other information (like his financial account information) are up to date.

I urge you to consider discussing these details with your loved ones. Jeanne’s workbook is a terrific tool, but any information you gather will be helpful. It can be a difficult discussion to have, but it’s much easier to have it while folks are healthy. Since my mom died, my dad has expressed over and over how grateful he is that we did it. (I overheard him on the phone brag to someone that they worked with a professional organizer to do this planning.)

The pre-planning we did made a difficult time much easier. It’s yet another way being organized can be beneficial.

Give your father the gift of time

18 June 2015

Father’s Day is Sunday and that always makes me want to encourage you not to give gifts that will become clutter. I think this is particularly true of gifts to parents, who may have an especially hard time letting go of items you give them.

I’ve mentioned before that you can give clutter-free gifts like fresh flowers, restaurant gift certificates, or coupons for services. But today I’m thinking about how wonderful it is to give the gift of time to a parent.

I haven’t lived within a thousand miles from my parents since I was 17 and left for college. I’m not sure I’ve spent Father’s Day with my father since 1980. But this year I’ll be there. It wasn’t intentional. My mother has been hospitalized and I’m rushing there to be by her bedside. The bright spot of that is that I’ll be with my 84-year-old father on Father’s Day this year.

Here’s a selfie I took of my dad, Gene Adams, and me at a basketball game last year. He’s a great guy.

Facing the prospect of losing my mother makes me wish I had more often given my parents the gift of time together. Throughout my adult years, I paid at least an annual visit to my parents. As they became elderly, I upped that to twice a year. This is my third visit this year and I have two more scheduled.

If you have the opportunity to spend more time with your parents than you’re currently spending, I urge you to consider scheduling regular outings (or just quiet visits) together while you can. I’d be willing to bet that they’ll be more special to your parent than any physical item you could give them.

My genealogy blog turns 3!

15 June 2015

Organize Your Family History turns 3!

On June 14, 2012, I published the first post on Organize Your Family History, a blog that marries my love for organizing with my love for genealogy research. I’m really enjoying writing this blog, because it helps me (and, I hope, others) get past the overwhelmed feeling that genealogy research can sometimes produce. It also helps keep me focused on how I can organize my research to make me a happier genealogist.

I blog there twice a week most weeks (Tuesdays and Fridays). Much like this blog (on which I publish posts on Mondays and Thursdays most weeks), it helps me look at the world through the eyes of a blogger. With OYFH it’s usually genealogy related and with POMO it’s life related. But the principles of organizing remain the same, no matter what it is you’re organizing.

This year, I hired a designer, Rebecca Pollock to create a new header and business card for Organize Your Family History. (That’s the business card front, above.) She also created a Pages template into which I’m currently writing an ebook on genealogy organizing that I will sell on the site.

If you’re interested in genealogy, I hope you’ll come check it out. I’ve been pleased with the reception it’s received in the genealogy community!

How I use Evernote

8 June 2015

How I use Evernote

A year ago, Springpad, the online digital organizing system I’d been using, went belly up. Fortunately, all the notes and notebooks I’d created in Springpad were transferred to Evernote, a similar, less graphical product. But I was sad.

I had created an account in Evernote years ago, but resisted using it. I know that part of my resistance was that I didn’t like the user interface. It was ugly to me. But, happily, I’ve been able to get rid of the ugly green and work in shades of grey in the desktop application. For whatever reason, this has made a big difference for me.

Springpad got me hooked on having an online place where I can store notes and websites. The critical component was that it synchs effortlessly among devices. Evernote has that same attribute. I can access my notes on my MacBook, iPad, iPhone and Apple Watch.

I’m happy to say that I’ve finally embraced Evernote and use it on a daily basis. I’m not an Evernote power user by any stretch of the imagination. There are many, many features to Evernote and I don’t think I’m even scratching the surface. But I’m not letting the fact it is so feature rich let me feel intimidated or overwhelmed.

I thought today I’d share with you how I use Evernote, in hopes that it might give you the push to need to use Evernote (if you don’t yet) or to help you improve your Evernote experience. So here we go. I use Evernote to:

  • Organize my team organizing jobs. When I’m putting together an organizing team, I use Evernote to keep track of who I’ve invited and who has confirmed being on a team. I might also make checklists of projects to be accomplished on the job, or about client reimbursements. They key is that I can access that information on my phone on the client site.
  • Keep track of blog post ideas. I tag posts with the word_ written_ once an idea becomes a blog post. Then I can search my Blog Post Ideas notebook and exclude those with the tag written.
  • Organize my travel. I forward itineraries to Evernote via email so that I can easily pull them up on the go. I can also keep track of hotel information and even hotel ideas when I’m deciding.
  • Keep track of the books I’ve read. I have a goal of reading 52 books this year. (I mostly read fiction.) When I finish a book, I create a note in the Books Read in 2015 notebook, recording the name, title, and date finished. I don’t know why, but this makes me happy.
  • Take notes during meetings. Because of its robust search capabilities, Evernote is a really handy place to take notes (and easily find them). I keep those notes in a notebook related to those meetings (for example, NAPO-St. Louis).
  • Create virtual sticky notes. I keep a few facts that I might want handy but haven’t memorized in Evernote for easy access when I’m on the go. Examples: My library card number, my NAPO membership number, my TSA Known Traveler Number.
  • Clip interesting articles from the web. The Evernote web clipper is a really easy way to keep track of articles you see on the web. You can tag as you clip, which makes it really easy to keep clipped articles organized. (I find it much easier than using bookmarks.)
  • Log my genealogy research. I’m still refining how I keep a research log, but at the very minimum, I try to record the simple details of my research sessions in a bare bones template I’ve created for Evernote.

I’m giving serious consideration to copying all my electronic genealogy documents into Evernote so they can be tagged for easy retrieval and available on all devices. That will be a large effort and I haven’t yet committed. But if I do decide to go that route Evernote will become even more valuable to me.

One reason I like Evernote so much is that I can find things on it so easily. I also really like that it automatically synchs between all my devices. The icing on the cake is that if I were to find myself without any of my devices but had access to a computer (like at a library or a friend’s house), I can simply log into Evernote on the web to see my stuff.

I’m curious: How do you use Evernote?

Worth repeating: Storing the food-storage containers

3 June 2015

I’m a huge believer in storing food-storage containers with the lids on them. I resisted it at first, but now I love it and I encourage all my clients to consider it. A year ago, I wrote (another) post about it, that I think bears repeating.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to help a client declutter her somewhat vast and varied supply of food-storage containers. Different shapes, different sizes, different brands. We emptied all the containers and lids out of the cupboards and drawers and put them on the dining-room table. I set about sorting them so I could match up tops and bottoms so she could see what she had. There ended up being some tops without bottoms (and vice versa) and the client ended up letting go of a lot of containers, which was great.

While I was doing sorting the containers, I kept thinking how glad I am that my friend and colleague Aby Garvey convinced me to store my food-storage containers with the lid on. Because I match the lid and the bottom as soon as I take them out of the dishwasher (and there rarely more than three at a time in the dishwasher, so it’s easy), I never have to search for one or the other and I never have extra lids or extra containers.

Here’s a picture of my containers after Aby helped me with them:

This makes me happy.

Aby was part of my team yesterday, and after the session, she and I, being the organizing nerds that we are, talked for quite awhile about how people typically object to storing food containers with the lids on. The objection is that storing them that way will take up too much space. (That’s what I said when she suggested it to me. in fact.) But when you store them with the lids on, it makes them so much easier to use. I think it’s worth any sacrifice of space you have to make.

As Aby pointed out people have a tendency to prioritize maximizing space over accessibility, when it comes food-storage containers. But that can be a mistake. If you can’t easily match lids and bottoms, you might be tempted to go out and buy more containers. The collection expands. Loose lids can slip out of sight and become annoying. Accessibility vanishes.

If you’re frustrated by the way you store your food-storage containers, I urge you to pull them all out, put the lids on, and see if you can put them all back with the lids on. If you can’t, consider paring them down to a number you can store that way. (Aby wisely says that, unless you’re someone who freezes food, if you have a really large number of these containers, something might be going bad in the back of your fridge.)

If your situation is such that you need to nest your containers, I urge you to have a set of containers from the same maker, so that you can more easily match lids and bottoms. Personally, I love the Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lids collection.

It's the little things

28 May 2015

Organizing isn’t about great products. It’s really about great systems and habits. But sometimes you can introduce a great product into the mix that makes everything come together really well.

Even though I know it’s not all about the products, I love great a storage solution. I have one in my bathroom that makes me smile every time I use it. I’ve had it for years and years and it’s probably my favorite item at The Container Store.

It’s a little thing, but here it is:

sometimes the little things make a big difference

It’s the Small Acrylic Hinge-Lid Box and it’s the perfect size for cotton swabs. They lie in there neatly. They don’t stick together when you try to pull one out. It’s pleasing to my eye.

I have one in each bathroom medicine cabinet and I recently bought a third to hold a different kind of swab in my own medicine cabinet.

When I use it, I think to myself, “It really is the little things that can make a big difference.” This little holder is an example of a well-designed, durable product that only does one thing, but it does it well. I use it daily. And I appreciate it, so I had to share.

Do you have a favorite little product (or habit or system) that makes a big difference in keeping your life organized?

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